This study demonstrates that Escherichia coli insertion elements IS3, IS150 and IS186 are able to form transpositionally active head-to-tail dimers which show similar structure and transpositional activity to the dimers of IS2, IS21 and IS30. These structures arise by joining of the left and right inverted repeats (IRs) of two elements. The resulting junction includes a spacer region (SR) of a few base pairs derived from the flanking sequence of one of the reacting IRs. Head-to-tail dimers of IS3, IS150 and IS186 are unstable due to their transpositional activity. They can be resolved in two ways that seem to form a general rule for those elements reported to form dimers. One way is a site-specific process (dimer dissolution) which is accompanied by the loss of one IS copy along with the SR. The other is 'classical' transposition where the joined ends integrate into the target DNA. In intramolecular transposition this often gives rise to deletion formation, whereas in intermolecular transposition it gives rise to replicon fusion. The results presented for IS3, IS150 and IS186 are in accordance with the IS dimer model, which is in turn consistent with models based on covalently closed minicircles.
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